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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Espionage Tape Was Not All It Appeared

The Russian-language voice-over on an audio tape provided by the Federal Security Service and broadcast on RTR state television contained information involving allegations of espionage that did not exist on the actual recording.

In its effort to prove that U.S. military attach?s in Moscow have engaged in espionage, the FSB released an audio tape purporting to show that a Russian scholar accused of spying gave an American naval officer in Moscow information about the armaments on a Russian intelligence ship, the Liman.

The tape consisted of a conversation in English between the scholar, Igor Sutyagin, and the American, Captain Robert Brannon, accompanied by a voice-over in Russian that was presented as a translation of the conversation.

A closer examination of the broadcast Friday revealed that the Russian translation does not comport with the actual conversation broadcast in the news program. Most importantly, the central allegation made in the voice-over cannot be heard on the tape recording.

The narrator in the Russian voice-over said Sutyagin provided Brannon with a description of the armaments on board the ship as it prepared to sail for the Balkans during NATO's 1999 military campaign.

But the only thing that can be heard on the tape relating to this point is Brannon mentioning the name of the Liman at the beginning of a sentence that was cut off in the televised segment.

It was not known whether the tape contained further information about the Liman after that point.

A spokesman for RTR's news program "Vesti," which presented the broadcast, said that its reporter, Alexei Overchuk, received the tape and a translation of it from the FSB.

The RTR spokesman, Alexander Chernov, said he did not know whether the reporter had tried to verify the transcript by comparing it with the actual conversation in English on the tape. Overchuk did not return phone calls Friday.

Chernov said Overchuk told him the translated transcript provided by the FSB was an "official document" from the "investigation material" in the Sutyagin case.

"Since we did not have enough time" to play all of the taped material the FSB said it had, Chernov said, "we took only part of it and then used a montage — just several opening phrases and a few more to have it as background that could be voiced over by the translation."

Asked whether he was concerned that the broadcast had aired an FSB version of the conversation that did not comport with the audio tape, Chernov said, "The translation was provided by the FSB. But we did not take everything from them. We do not need documented proof," and he added, "it was clear the FSB would not give us undocumented material, as they could easily be caught at it."

The difference between the Russian narration and the actual conversation beneath it raised concerns among Sutyagin's friends and supporters that the FSB had taken the opportunity of the broadcast about alleged American espionage to strengthen its case against Sutyagin, who is on trial on charges of treason — charges that stem from his role in contributing to a book on Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal and in providing consultant services to foreign organizations on Russian military affairs.

Sutyagin, a researcher at Moscow's U.S.A. and Canada Institute until his arrest in 1999, has defended himself by saying that as a scholar he never had access to classified information and only provided materials gleaned from open sources.

The bulk of the 44-second audio recording consists of friendly chat between Brannon and Sutyagin. Brannon asks, "Have you received the fax I tried to send you?" Sutyagin replies that he has received the fax and then adds, "the best was that envelope."

Sutyagin's associates said he frequently received materials on U.S. military policy from military attach?s, something that could not be construed as improper, they said.